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From Teen Curators, Penny Shapiro and Zoe Sonkin
A man in a blue cap with yellow letterings, POLITE, black frames, and a white t shirt looking at...
Josh Ginsburg, Image By Monique Pelsner

As part of their in-depth engagement with A body, revealed, our Teen Curators had the opportunity to interview artists, curators, and gallerists about Kevin Beasley’s practice. Josh Ginsburg is the director of A4 Arts Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa. This interview excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.  

Penny: My name is Penny Shapiro.

Zoe: And my name is Zoe Sonkin. 

Penny: We are Teen Curators at The Hill Art Foundation in New York City. Today, we are speaking with Josh Ginsburg, who is the lead curator at the A4 Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa. In this conversation, we will be discussing Ginsburg’s work as a forward thinker and creator in the contemporary art world, as well as his relationship to Kevin Beasley’s work. In your 2012 Ted Talk, “How I Digitally Mapped My Own Memory,” you discuss how you have “essentially [created] a container for thoughts but not one that’s rigid nor one that is hierarchical but something that is actually in motion, that is swirling.” How does this non-linear approach of organizing material and information influence your work as a curator? 

Josh: I have an interest in association––specifically how seemingly unlike things can generate meaning through proximity to one another.

Curatorial work often aims to account for why a thing is in a place—works are acutely selected and their place justified. I respect this of course. But I’m less focussed on narrativising or theorizing why an artwork is presented, and more interested in what becomes possible by an artwork’s inclusion. I’m excited by artworks as catalysts, instigators or agitators: something could occur by bringing this thing and that thing into proximity with one.

Association drives this practice: These things feel connected in some way; there is a resonance (or dissonance); let’s afford them space to react by placing them in space together. This is different (I think) to intellectualizing selections where A, B, C and D need to be together for reason G. 

Some years ago, I did a project at the Cape Town International Art Fair with artist Matthew King. We loaned about 40 works from artists, friends, galleries and collections and stored them at the fair. Each day we placed a selection of three or four works on the wall that we found compelling together.  And over the course of the day, we talked to people that came by and we discussed what they were looking at. And then we changed the combinations in response to observations made by people we were engaging. Over the 4 days, we spoke with many many people and made changes to the selection every hour or so.

A key learning from that process—that still informs me now—is that when we acted as the invited “expert” curators and said to passers-by, “this is from 1972, and this is from 2010, etc, and here the reasons why all these things are here. What do you think?”, they were restrained, withdrawn and cautious. But, when we said, “We like these things together, there is kind of a curious relationship between them, but we can’t explain anything about their proximity to one another. What do you think?” Then the doors opened: There was joy, conversation, and engagement. We were exploring together. It wasn’t knowledge being delivered—it was knowledge being produced collectively. 

There was a directly proportional relationship between people’s willingness to bring their own ideas and participate, with our “surety:” If we were experts, they were passengers. If we were exploring, uncertain and open, they were collaborators.

There is a parallel risk though: If you don’t offer any insights or connective tissue at all, then would-be-participants can feel alienated, “This is completely abstract, and there’s absolutely no context for what I am seeing”. So I’m not saying this process of openness to association always works. 

But to your point, in an artistic process, you don’t necessarily understand the choices you make, but you follow them out in your own way through a conversation with the medium. In lieu of that, the process of collecting data, networking it and encouraging unexpected collisions and combinations within various archives, is to some extent an exploration or attempted study of artistic processes themselves. This study underpins my practice as a curator.

Zoe: We noticed that Kevin Beasley works with many different types of materials and mediums to create a cohesive theme for an exhibition. How is this similar or different from what a curator does? And why were you drawn to his work for A4? 

Josh: The first thing to say is I don’t think it’s important to delineate in Kevin’s case, what part of his practice is artist, what part of it is curator. I’d say he is disciplinarily “fluid” and his inquiry seems to me to probe dynamics of objects and contexts. This is to say he is exploring the meaning of a thing in relation to its history and its presence. 

So if I were to pick one word to describe his approach it would be “provenance.” We are familiar with the word provenance within the art world as a means to legitimize an object: it was bought by x, then y, then z; shown at a, b and c. But provenance is of course a much wider concept than a means to qualify rare objects—it’s the embedded story, the life story of an object. 

While objects are often what we engage in Kevin’s work, I think a vital entry point to his practice (the approach, method, actions) and this framing of provenance, is a long standing and ongoing investment in sound and its production (music being a category within this). Sounds, like physical matter, can be collected, and can carry both the space of origin (traces from a place) and the context of their collection (the means by which they were recorded). And then they can be stretched, combined, collaged, re-mixed or other to make a composite sound: a single composition. I think it can be really useful to look at some of Kevin’s object-works through the lens of these sonic composites—as remixes perhaps? Further, Kevin not only collects and manipulates sounds, but in some cases, he plays and improvises with them.

And I think at times, Kevin’s interest and willingness to play—be in with audio or object—can be overlooked. He articulates his work so eloquently, that one could skip over how intuitive and uncertain the process is. 

I think that the contemporary art world, unbelievably, is not particularly good at accommodating or accounting for practice on its own terms. It tends to want a neat narrative or intention to account for the object. However, not all things are understandable; and artworks, often great artworks, aren’t necessarily understood. 

What makes Kevin so wonderful to work with is that he effortlessly mediates his process (offering little hooks that can draw you into his thinking), while prioritizing the fluidity of making and the push-and-pull of private conversations with materials (sound, garments or other). 

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